The mown-grass path led through the long-empty cow pasture, along the tree line, to a clearing under this gnarled oak. The air settled clammy on our skin as we unloaded camp chairs, tents, cooler, and bedding.
We pitched our two tents, with eager hands spreading fabric and clicking poles into place.
The 7-year-old, struggling to drive a stake into the parched-hard dirt, informed us that we should have packed a hammer.
Next time, we said.
We expected to reach 100 degrees the next day, but it isn’t camping without a camp fire. The kids helped gather twigs, sticks, and grass, while we cleared a space between the tents.
Scott took the kids exploring the woods and field while I fluffed grass, fed thicker twigs to the flame, and puffed fading embers back to life. I was surprised how the flames roared and then faded, over and over, how much the fire needed tending. How different from the instant burst of our gas grill at home.
Sweat dripped and I thought of women tending fires and feeding their families every day, just like this. And I was voluntarily roughing it. What luxury.
Dark crept in, marshmallows browned, and toddler began the perpetual-motion-stay-awake dance.
As we made beds and changed into pajamas, we learned that bugs love battery-lanterns and avoid propane lanterns. Children don’t.
When the ice pack warmed and tears woke us two hours later, I whipped up a makeshift bandage of clear tape and toilet paper to relieve the throbbing burn.
Lightning flickered beyond the hill. Watchful wakeful mother barely rested.
We ate a simple breakfast of donuts and orange juice. No campfire eggs and bacon. Sleep-deprived mothers are grumpy, and grumpy mothers don’t cook well.
While we broke camp, pajama-clad children explored the old pasture and watering hole.
They chased frogs and picked flowers.
They spent an hour as their father lived a childhood.
Later, after showers, we spent two hours picking tiny black insects out of each other’s skin. Not like their father’s childhood. According to Wikipedia, we camped in the midst of the tick’s natural habitat.
We’re not sure there will be a next time. But if there is, we will pack a hammer, a propane lantern, and pitch our tents on dirt.